Dead and cold

It’s been more than five months now since block-time broadcaster Neil “Lito” Jimena was shot in cold blood in the town of E. B. Magalona, Negros Occidental by apparent guns-for-hire “riding in tandem”. Two suspects have been charged before the Negros Occidental Provincial Prosecutor’s Office about a month later after eyewitnesses positively identified them as the culprits. Nothing has been heard about the case since then. If it were a radio set, only the hissing sound of static — empty radio signal — could be heard from it.

The silence is suspicious. The police had positive identification. There was even a CCTV video that showed the victim during his last few moments, with the alleged gunmen visible in the background. Right from the start, we received A-1 information from intelligence sources that the assailants were hired by a powerful figure in Iloilo City. The victim appears to have been lured to go home to E. B. Magalona that weekend. It was a set-up. There was a deluge of death threats in his cell phone. The victim had also revealed to friends and colleagues that his life was in danger.

First, why did the Philippine National Police (PNP) stop dead in its tracks? The investigation was not yet over. Only the alleged assailants were identified. Certainly, the investigation shouldn’t have ended there. We expected the PNP to send investigators to talk with Jimena’s colleagues in Iloilo City. These individuals could have provided clues on the mastermind behind the killing. I, for one, received text messages from Jimena that can shine a bright beam of light on the case.

And what about the CCTV footage? That was supposedly sent by the Task Force Jimena to Camp Crame for forensics examination and get the images enhanced. After five months, there should be helpful results by now. But we have not heard anything. It’s as if the case was just closed with hardly a whimper. The PNP no longer demonstrated interest in pursuing the case. In effect, even the alleged triggerman and his accomplice-driver would not have to face trial. Justice will never be done for Lito Jimena

This development is disturbing. It reinforces the perception that the culture of impunity in which media workers are murdered without their culprits being punished persists, and shows no sign of abating. An investigative report published by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) shows there have been 120 media murders since freedom of the press was restored in the country in 1986. That is a high price to pay for the right to report the truth freely.

Only about 8 percent of the cases have resulted in conviction. More than half never even reached the courts, according to PCIJ. Apparently, the forces of government are no match to the power of the individuals who ordered these killings. This is a weakness in our law enforcement system that leaves the media profession highly vulnerable. And it’s not farfetched to think that most young journalists would rather stay away from danger than pursue stories fearlessly. Indeed, with the pittance that most Filipino journalists get for their work, it’s hard to courageous in the journalism sense of the word.

How many more journalists will have to pay with their lives to earn the right to report the truth freely? The case of Dr. Gerry Ortega of Puerto Princesa is now gaining prominence once more as the media profession have closed ranks to protest the failure of law enforcers to pin down the culprits. Fear for one’s life is worse than libel in discouraging journalists from angering powerful public officials. The lack of interest on the part of the Aquino government to end this culture of impunity makes it part of the problem.

There are ugly rumors that a powerful politician has pressured the PNP to step on the brakes in pursuing the case. It’s not hard to believe these rumors, because there is no logical explanation for the sudden “cold and dead” status of the case. An investigation doesn’t just lose steam when it is hot on a lead. There has to be an external stimulus to make that happen. It would be unfortunate if this is true. The PNP ceases to be the protector of our freedoms. It is once again becoming a tool for dirty politicians

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

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